By Jarrod Jones. Amongst the fury and the spectacle of The Dark Knight Returns, of all the incredible things to look back upon, the quiet moments are what I remember most. The single pages filled with intimate musings and horrible thoughts. A mother exhausted with commute and work and the shittiest parts of Gotham, worn so low that she could scarcely smile at the thought of her beautiful, creative child. A selfish wart who calls himself a man, who can scarcely scrounge up pity for a people who watch as their neighborhood descends into chaos. An astronaut coasting in blackness towards his doom, writing a letter his family will never read as the horror man wrought opens up underneath him in a mushroom cloud. Those are the moments that stick out most to me.

When I think about Dark Knight Strikes Again, I remember how a totally plausible (but no less ridiculous) take on our media-saturated culture was enough to garner accepting nods and condescending think pieces from outlets then deemed far more sophisticated than the then-fledgling internet blogosphere. I remember Green Lantern putting a giant fist around the Earth. I remember… actually, that’s about it. Strikes Again lacked the narrative grace Returns had in abundance. As such, it’s vastly more easy to forget. And maybe that was the point. As an artist, Frank Miller was angrier then. Infinitely less subtle. And we all know what happened the last time he visited Gotham City, for All-Star Batman and Robin. He was so visibly frustrated with how much everyone loved Returns that we wound up letting him depict Batman striking a child out of nothing more than caustic angst.

Now we’re three books deep inside Dark Knight III — or maybe it’s really supposed to be called DKIII, who can really say — and there are a few quiet moments to be found here, with just as many splash page events to counterbalance them. And it is a precarious balance, one that Mr. Miller couldn’t achieve on his own, not anymore; here, under the diligent care of Brian Azzarello, we come to understand Bruce Wayne a bit more, as a broke-down crimefighter certainly, but also as a surrogate father. His relationship with Carrie Kelley is given a few pages to breathe, and artist Andy Kubert doesn’t let the sentiment falter. (When you consider the only future Carrie could ever have in this life, the juxtaposition of Wayne’s calloused, scarred hands against her unmarred face is both touching and depressing at the same time.)

DKIII: Book Three didn’t kick my ass in the way Book One or Book Two did. It’s shocking and exciting and it’s even funny in parts, but ultimately this chapter’s closing ellipsis offers more questions than it does chills. And that’s perfectly fine. Here, it’s the little things, the flourishes, that matter most — when it comes time to get shit done, Wayne favors leaning on a sledgehammer instead of a crutch, among a precious few examples — and when I see them placed carefully amongst DKIII‘s appropriately daunting scale, I know it will be those quiet moments that continue to remind me why I care about The Dark Knight saga so damn much.

DC Comics/$5.99

Written by Frank Miller and Brian Azzarello.

Art by Andy Kubert.

Inks by Klaus Janson.

Colors by Brad Anderson.

Letters by Clem Robins.

8.5 out of 10